Ventus – Day 124 of 135


The White Wind crept through the forest, low to the ground, and listened as Axel told his tale. She remembered being Calandria May now–remembered Axel, his passions and follies, the lopsided grin and strong hands. She had rushed to embrace him the instant she saw him, and he had not recognized her.

She wept as she padded along, regretting everything. Her life had been so sweet, and she had never known.

The others were hanging back on her instructions. She could not disobey her new masters, but neither did she have to obey them mindlessly. She knew, if they did not, that Axel posed no threat to Ventus. Jordan, though… She was not so sure about him.

She wanted to turn and run, and run all night through the woods until she could sleep the sleep of exhaustion and forget. Instead, the White Wind held her pace next to the humans, and listened with growing wonder to the tales of the Desert Voice, and of thalience, and of Earth.


Calloused hands reached down to help Galas up the last few steps. She could only nod her gratitude to the dark-robed men who stood under torchlight on the broad ledge that fronted the Titans’ Gate monastery.

The moment she was safely on her feet, the whole crowd of thirty or so men knelt as one. “Your highness,” said the abbot, a balding man with grey eyes whom she had not seen in years.

“I am not the queen,” she said. “Not any more.” The words still sounded strange to her.

They all looked up as one. “We know your palace was under siege,” said the abbot. “We assumed it would be taken. So this means you are in exile now. I must tell you that you have always served the desals well and have honored the ancient traditions better than any monarch in recent memory. You have our loyalty now and forever. For that reason, we still consider you queen, if not of Iapysia, than at least of this mountain.”

Galas found herself blushing. She looked down. “Thank you.” She could think of nothing further to say.

“My queen, are you responsible for the unprecedented visit of all these Winds to our humble monastery?” The abbot gestured in the direction of the vagabond moons.

She shrugged. “I suppose I am, in a way.”

“Is this stairway defensible?” asked Armiger.

The abbot eyed him appraisingly. “It has proved to be in the past,” he said. “You are Queen Galas’ escort?”

“This is the general Armiger,” she said. “He is my protector, and yours now.” She saw that Armiger had dismissed the strange silvery ovals that had hovered over his head the past few hours. Had she not known he was not breathing, she would have thought he looked perfectly normal.

Armiger walked over to the parapet. The monastery was just over halfway up the vertical eastern face of the north Gate. Invisible from the valley was a broad ledge, almost a plateau, that narrowed to nothingness a hundred meters north, but broadened to the south as it swept around the curve of the mountain face. The monastery buildings were built towards the north end, so that the very last towers hugged the cliff itself with sheer rock below them. The stairway arrived midway along the south edge of the plateau, where the monks had built a garden around the front gates of the monastery.

“What lies that way?” asked Armiger, pointing to the southerly curve of the narrow plateau.

“Habitations of the Winds,” said the Abbot.

“Desal machines,” added Galas. “There’s bottomless pits, waterfalls spouting out of the cliffs… it’s hard to describe.”

“And the distance to the southern peak?”

“About three-quarters of a kilometer at this point,” said the Abbot.

Armiger nodded. “Too narrow for a vagabond moon to fit.”

“What are you thinking?” she asked him.

“I’m satisfied about the stairs down,” he said. “But I somehow doubt that’s where our threat will come from.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Look.” He pointed at the moons. As far as she could tell, they hadn’t moved. They hung over the far end of the valley and the foothills, seemingly close enough to touch, but in reality kilometers away.

Armiger must have seen her uncomprehending expression. He said, “Count them.”

She did so. There were eleven.

“An hour ago,” said Armiger, “there were twelve.”


A new sun came on, exactly at the zenith. It appeared first as a sliver of brightness, then bloomed over a few seconds into a square too bright to look at. In those few seconds, the sky underwent a complete transformation from twilight to day; every shade of blue flashed through the heavens as the stars went out everywhere except near the deep blue horizon. Way out there, clouds and the edges of the furthest vagabond moons lay in shadow; nearer in, they gleamed in pure sunlight.

Axel squinted up at the light. “Solar mirror,” he said. “Big sucker.”

Jordan nodded. He had seemed subdued ever since Axel and Marya had told him what they’d learned about thalience and Turcaret. Axel had seen him shake his head several times, scowling.

“So we’re going to meet the infamous Armiger,” Axel said. “I’ve been wanting to do that for almost a year. You say you spoke to him once? You still think he’s not a resurrection seed?”

Jordan hesitated. “I don’t think so,” he said. “But I’m not sure.”

“Don’t say that,” said Axel. “Say, ‘Axel, he’s not a resurrection seed, and I can prove it.’ That would make me happy, if you could say that to me.”

“He’s up to something, and I’m not sure what,” Jordan said. “I don’t think that proves anything either way.”

“You said he took the secret of commanding the Winds from you, but he hasn’t used it. And you don’t know why not.”

Jordan shook his head. “He should have started using it right away. He could have taken over the world by now if he’d been able to.”

“He has the technology, but not the keys,” said Marya. “It’s exactly like Turcaret. He can speak to them, but they’re not listening.”

“Oh, they’re listening,” said Jordan. “They hear what I say, and they talk back. That’s not it.”

She shook her head. “But thalience…”

Jordan barked a laugh. “Whatever thalience is, the swans have given up on it. They’re bitter, and they’re in the mood to clean up after neglecting their jobs for a long time. So they plan to wipe humanity off of Ventus.”

Jordan’s companion said, “You said this fellow Turcaret had to have a certain kind of… thing in him.”

“DNA.” Marya nodded vigorously. “Yes, that must be it. Armiger doesn’t have the proper DNA.”

“Not quite true,” said Axel. “The fact is, he probably doesn’t have DNA at all. …So that’s it.”

Jordan nodded. “He has the broadcast power, but not the ‘password’.”

“That’s what we came to find out,” said Marya. “Let’s get back to the ship.”

“No!” Jordan ran several steps ahead. “We’re nearly there!”

“Nearly where?” They had come to an almost vertical cliff–the end of a long sinuous drape of Titans’ Gate stone. The cliff was seamless, and at least fifty meters high.

“There’s a door into the Gates here,” said Jordan.

There was a flash of lightning, and moments later a grumble of thunder from fairly nearby. Tamsin pointed up through the trees. “Here they come.”

The Heaven hooks were descending on the valley. They were no less impressive in daylight than they had been at night; it was simply clearer now what they were. Three of the vagabond moons were edging over the valley; together they would fill the sky over it from one end to the other. Their very bottommost sections had petalled open, and now long black gantries and cables were unreeling. From a distance these looked delicate, but the gantries were thicker than the trees below them.

As Axel watched, lightning stuttered from the cables of the lead craft. A long line of explosions stitched across the valley floor.

“If we’re going to get to the ship we have to leave now,” said the Voice.

Jordan shook his head. “The swans are waiting if it takes off. They haven’t moved against it because the Hooks are going to take care of it.”

“How do you know that?”

“I used to rely on Mediation to relay what they were saying. I don’t need to anymore. I can hear them myself now.”

They all stopped walking and stared at Jordan. He put his hands on his hips and glared back.

“Are you gonna argue with me?” he said belligerently.

Surprised, Axel laughed.

“But, the ship!” wailed Marya.

“The ship is about to be eaten,” said Jordan with a shrug. “We’re going this way.” He pointed to the cliff.

Marya glanced at Axel; he shrugged.

“Apparently we are,” he said.

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